§ Mr. Wigley
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will amend regulation 19 of the Social Security Act 1975 in order to recognise the predicament of unemployed people in areas with seasonal work, and to ensure that genuinely unemployed people do not lose unemployment benefit in winter by virtue of their taking up seasonal jobs in the summer.
§ Mr. Rossi
My right hon. Friend is satisfied that additional conditions for receipt of unemployment benefit by seasonal workers are necessary to ensure that benefit is not paid to those seasonal workers who are not in employment during their off-seasons. The National Insurance Advisory Committee considered the seasonal worker rules and concluded, in 1977, that additional conditions were still neeeded for that purpose and that it was not possible to distinguish between those who deliberately adopt a seasonal pattern of work and others who become seasonal workers while still trying to obtain regular employment. The committee recommended, however, certain changes in the rules. The last Administration did not implement them because of the cost involved and, with the need to make savings in social security expenditure, we have had to postpone a decision about their implementation.
§ Mr. Craigen
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the latest number of recipients of supplementary pension or allowance and family income supplement; what is the estimated number of their dependants; how many persons would be entitled to claim certificates of exemption on income grounds from prescription charges; and how many have claimed certificates of exemption on grounds of low income for ophthalmic or dental treatment.
§ Mr. Newton
[pursuant to his reply, 19 April 1982, c. 43]: Provisional estimates are now available of the numbers dependent on supplementary benefit at December 1981. These are shown in the table below, together with the estimated numbers dependent on family income supplement at that date.
Estimated number of beneficiaries and their dependants in Great Britain at December 1981 Recipients Dependants Supplementary pension 1.7 million 0.3 million Supplementary allowance 2.0 million 2.1 million Family income supplement 132,000 351,000
People in families holding a certificate of exemption from prescription charges on low income grounds, or receiving supplementary benefit or FIS are automatically entitled to free national health service glasses and dental 278W treatment. Other people on low incomes may claim help with all or part of national health service charges for glasses and dental treatment as and when the occasion arises.
Estimates of numbers eligible, on grounds of low income, for certificates of exemption from prescription charges are expected to become available within the next month or so. I shall then write to the hon. Member.
There are no figures available for Great Britain relating to help, on low-incomes grounds, with the cost of National Health Service glasses. As regards dental charges, it is estimated that, in Great Britain in 1980, 722,000 payments were made to people with a qualifying benefit or certificate, and that a further 121,000 payments were made to people qualifying on low income grounds.
§ Mr. Allen McKay
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if it is his policy that workers on short-time working, that is two weeks at work and one week off for which they receive unemployment pay, should not receive supplementary benefit; under what circumstances social security officers are using regulation 9(2)(D) of the Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Regulation 1981 and not regulation 9(2)(A); if he is satisfied that the practice in applying the regulations is consistent between social security offices; and if he will instruct social security officers to cease applying regulation 9(2)(D) in these cases and take steps retrospectively to reimburse those workers who have been deprived of benefit.
§ Mr. Newton
[pursuant to his reply, 26 April 1982, c. 213]: The Department's policy is that a person who is on short-time working and is receiving either unemployment benefit or payments under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme should be able to receive supplementary benefit if he is not working more than an average of 30 hours a week—35 for certain disabled people—and his average income is less than his supplementary benefit level. The regulations are designed to achieve this end.
The chief supplementary benefit officer, who is responsible for advising supplementary benefit officers on the interpretation and application of the law, has advised that, in taking into account earnings—including short-time working payments—of a person on short-time working, resources regulation 9(2)(D) should be used, rather than regulation 9(2)(A). I have no power to intervene or to instruct supplementary benefit officers, but this advice is consistent with the Department's policy. It follows the practice of the former Supplementary Benefits Commission, the broad purpose of which—together with the averaging of hours worked—was to ensure equality of treatment between those working whole weeks on and whole weeks off and those working part of each week.
We are not aware that the regulations are being applied inconsistently, but I understand that the chief supplementary benefit officer will be issuing further guidance designed to re-affirm his advice.